eCoaching Tip 81 Using Expert Stories as Vicarious Practice

September 9, 2010

eCoaching Tip 81 Using Expert Stories as Vicarious Practice

Seeing how course knowledge can make a difference in real life experiences with case studies can take time. However, providing practice in using knowledge is essential for deep learning.

When we are struggling to ensure that we cover critical course content, it can seem almost a luxury to take time to orchestrate and hold expert events.  Yet, expert events are a powerful and delightful way to integrate practice into a course by providing vicarious practice experiences.  Experts often embed their stories in practical ongoing experiences, modeling how content knowledge and decisions work in real contexts.  Experts really do “see” the world and situations differently than novices and developing that understanding “eye” can take years and many life experiences.

Expert events provide some of that critical experience. An added benefit is that expert events add spontaneity and a sense of uniqueness to your course.

Ways of Bringing Experts In…

Here are a few ideas on how you can make expert events a part of your course. More details on these strategies follow in the rest of this tip.

  • Invite a colleague or acquaintance to a question and answer session on a business or life experience related to the core concept(s) in your course.
  • Invite the author of a book, article or online video presentation to visit your class in a Wimba classroom, on a phone conference or in an asynchronous discussion or media place, such as VoiceThread. It’s easy to invite an expert to be a presenter or interviewee in your Wimba classroom as a guest.
  • Invite an expert to serve as a reviewer of creative projects or presentations such as wikis, blogs, or white papers.
  • Invite a student or team of students to role-play an expert, assuming the position of a CEO or leader who is managing a crisis. This could be a project that incorporates contact with outside experts, and review of interviews and writings by that leader.

Three Elements of Expert Events – Preparation, Event, Reflection

Incorporating an expert event in your course can consist of a simple invited “lecture” or presentation or conversation when an expert shares a narrative experience about a significant event in his life, career, or business followed by a question and answer session.

If you can, however, learning is enhanced when you design an expert event with a three-element approach: A preparationactivity, followed by the event, followed by some follow-up or reflection action.Preparation activities can include research on a topic or expert; a reading of articles, reports, or books; listening to videos or presentations, or preparing interview questions.

Events themselves can be presentations, question and answer sessions, or weeklong discussions of dilemmas, ideas, or problems.  These events can be wrapped up with reflections such as individual or team papers, blogs, reports, recommendations, or audio podcasts.

It can be helpful to guide the design of an expert event by asking yourself when and how and for what purposes do experts use the content in your course. Answering this question helps to place course content into meaningful contexts.

Example of Book Author as Expert

In early 2010 one of the SLPA faculty, Donna Billings, taughtPCCP 510, Leading and Coaching Across Generations. Some of the key concepts in that course include the characteristics of different generations and the impact of these characteristics on leadership and leadership interactions. One of the required texts for the course was Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life(2009) coauthored by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan. Donna invited one of the authors, Dave Logan, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business to join her class in a Wimba Classroom one evening for an hour.

Donna used the three elements of planning expert events. Students were required to read sections of the book using the proactive reading skills (Knowles, 1975).  This process requires them to generate three questions that they want to find answers to within the book, find the answers to those three questions, and then finalize those three questions for the interview with Dr. Logan. Donna forwarded the students’ questions to Dr. Logan ahead of time.

Note: Designing the expert event as a question and answer session made it easier and less time-consuming for the expert, a helpful strategy for recruiting experts.  Having the questions ahead of time meant that he could prepare and think ahead of time, but that the actual event could be quite informal and spontaneous.

Donna used this same design for a second expert event, an interview with Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed, co-author of Keeping the Millennials (2009). For a video of this expert, see  WPXI’s “Talking Pittsburgh.”

After the interview sessions, students emailed both Dr. Logan and Dr. Ferri-Reed directly with follow-up questions. Donna commented that their comments and answers made for a “rich, ongoing discussion.”

Expert events are often quite rewarding for experts themselves, as Dr. Logan generously observed at the end of his session that the students’ questions were good for “deepening his own thinking, such as really clarifying what default futures are and how people act within them.” Dr. Reed alsoshared with Donna later that she had “learned some new information from our students that she can use in her own work.”

Comments about the Value of Expert Events

How did students respond to these events?  Donna observed that the students really appreciated the honest and forthright discussion with these experts.  Here are some of their comments.

  • “Adding the authors of our texts to our online class was a great opportunity to advance our understanding and learning from these texts.”
  • “The use of Wimba classroom and the interviews with the authors of our texts was something I had not experienced before in any of our classes. I thought it was a great way to supplement the learning; and it was great to hear their reasons behind what sparked their writing.”
  • “She (our instructor) challenged us with the reading, discussions and especially the dialogue with the authors. This improved our self-directed learning. She created a classroom that set a high bar for all students to achieve in participation and sharing of real world materials outside the texts.”

When talking with Donna about her experience, Donna also shared that her students learned that, “These authors are real human beings like the rest of us; that they have challenges like we do; that they have also struggled with leadership issues and generational issues, which is the reason they have written the books they wrote.”  Donna also shared that she thinks students enjoyed challenging the authors about the reasons behind their writings and that it is was fun listening to that exchange.

Conclusion – A Win-Win-Win

So, expert events can be win-win-win experiences.  Students get a chance to interact with experts in a spontaneous, yet focused way about the course content.  Experts get a chance to deepen their own thinking, and you the instructor, get a chance to interact with experts, broaden your network and observe how your students apply course content.  The fall term is a great time for experts, so you may want to try some version of these ideas.

What Do I Need to Do to Have an Expert Join in a Wimba Classroom?

It does take a bit of paperwork to arrange for an expert to join a Wimba Classroom site within Blackboard.  It is not onerous, but just takes an email about a week ahead.  Here is how it works.

  1. Three to five (or more) business days prior to your planned expert event, contact Mark Prestopnik <> or Jackie Goodwill <> with the date and nature of your planned event and the contact info, such as name, email address, phone number of the expert you would like to be a guest at your site.
  2. Mark and Jackie forward the request via a help ticket to Ruth Newberry, Director of Education Technology for CTS and she approves it on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Once this is approved and a guest account has been set up, Mark or Jackie then follow up with the individual, providing them with instructions to access the Blackboard course site and to participate in the webinar session.

Given the process and the time for planning any event, doing this earlier is always a good idea. This process obviously helps protect the privacy and security of the university’s Blackboard classroom space.

More about Experts

One of the earlier ecoaching tips, Tip 46: Experts – A Touch of Spice!answers questions such as these:

  • What are some good times for inviting experts to a course?
  • Where can I find experts?
  • What types of learning events are good for experts?

Be sure to check out that tip for additional practical and logistical ideas.  And please share some of your experiences, both wins and difficulties.

Selected References

Boettcher, J. (2009) Tip 65: Best Practices for Wrapping Up CoursesRetrieved September 7, 2010 from

Boettcher, J. (2007) Tip 46: Experts – A Touch of Spice!Retrieved September 7 2010 from

Knowles, M., Self-directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers. Chicago; Associated Press of the Follett Publishing Co., 1975.

Here are the links to a two-part resource on “Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment” by Virgil Varvel of the Illinois Online Network.  Although prepared in 2001 they remain a valuable summary for the use of experts in online courses.

Varvel, V. July/August 2001 – Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment (Part 1 of 2) Learn the benefits of bringing in the outside lecture into your online courses. Retrieved  September 7, 2010 from

Varvel, V.  September/October 2001 – Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment (Part 2 of 2)
 Where can you find a good guest lecturer? What do students feel about guest lecturers? Retrieved September 7, 2010 from

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher